House passes last-minute texting amendment that threatens bill
A late amendment that supporters of a texting while driving ban fear could kill the legislation passed Tuesday morning.
The amendment proposed by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, would allow cell phone records to be used as evidence only in the case of a crash resulting in death or personal injury. Oliva said the purpose of the amendment is to “protect civil liberties” not derail the bill.
But Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said it was “deceptive and dishonest” to tack on an amendment at the last minute.
Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, said “We see amendments every day and no one is accusing anyone else of being scheming or being dishonest.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice and Reps. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, and Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota,
Detert, R-Venice, who has been trying to get a bill passed for four years, stood at the back of the House chamber during the texting amendment discussion and left immediately after the vote.
Detert said she came over after hearing about the amendment while sitting at her desk and she was "suspicious" of the bill's timing," noting that the bill has been awaiting action in the House for weeks.
“It’s a very simple bill,” she said.” It should have simply passed.”
Pilon said he was concerned that after trying to get a bill passed for five years, the amendment would threaten the bill and he didn't want to take the risk. The amendment passed by a 73-46 vote.
The inclusion of the amendment in the broader texting bill complicates matters.
While the House could pass the amended bill as early as Wednesday , it now must return to the Senate. If the Senate strips the amendment, the bill would have to go back to the House for approval. The back-and-forth, while typical in the last days of session, also increases the chances that an agreement between the two chambers will not be reached.
The bill, SB 52, would make texting while driving a secondary offense. That means a motorist would have to commit another violation, such as careless driving, in order to be pulled over. Once stopped, a driver could receive two tickets, one for the infraction and one for texting.
The fine would be $30 for a first-time texting offense, $60 if it occurs again within five years, with more points added if the violation is in a school zone. Texting would be allowed in hands-off high-tech cars and when a car is stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam.
This is the first time a bill has been heard in the House. Holder has been trying to get a bill heard for five years.
The vote on the amendment came up moments after a bill to give parents the ability to take more control over failing schools died in a tie vote in the Senate. Detert spoke vigorously against the bill on Monday, which was supported by House leadership, calling it “hopelessly bad.”